In their first ever matchup, and final ever with Arizona as a member of the Pac-12, Coach Fortier and the #20 Gonzaga Bulldogs took down the Wildcats 81-69 in Phoenix. On the season, the Zags own a 3-1 record against the Pac-12, which means that both Men’s and Women’s teams are doing pretty good against the Power 5 conference. While Arizona has not been ranked this year, they play a tough brand of basketball and offered a solid matchup for the Bulldogs before they head into conference play. Let’s take a look at this game.
The first quarter was a little bit nervy as the Zags looked incredibly sloppy with the ball in their hands as they turned the ball over 8 times. This number felt like it could have been higher as the team made inaccurate passes and generally out of sync with each other. While Gonzaga looked off key, Arizona’s defense certainly didn’t as they played tight man-man defense and forced the Bulldogs to initiate their offense much further from the basket than usual and slow down the typical high-flying half-court offense Gonzaga has shown this year. However, Arizona couldn’t stop the Zags, namely Yvonne, in transition as about half of the 15 points scored by GU came from pushing the ball down the court off successful rebounds to catch the WIldcats off-guard. On the flip side, Kailyn Gilbert repeatedly broke down the Zag defenders off the dribble and getting to her spots with ease. However, Gonzaga ended the quarter with a 15-14 lead on the back of Ejim’s 10 points.
Yvonne continued her offensive dominance to start the second quarter as she had 7 of the first 10 Gonzaga points. But that wasn’t all she was doing on the court as she added 2 blocks and 2 rebounds across the same time period. She was dominating so much, that Coach Adia Barnes even decided to assign guard Helena Pueyo and her quick hands onto Ejim to no avail. After a quite five minutes that saw the Wildcats score just 5 points, they got hot over the next two minutes to cut Gonzaga’s lead to a single point as guards Gilbert and Pueyo slicing through the perimeter defense with their quickness. However, Arizona’s offense couldn’t keep up the pass and devolved into a dribbling drill as Gonzaga cut off passing lanes with good effect while their offense scored some baskets increase the lead to 38-32 heading into the half.
At this stage, Ejim was leading all scorers with 21 points on 10-12 shooting along with 4 rebounds and 3 blocks while Kayleigh was having a bounce-back game with 8 points on 3-3 shooting (2 threes) to go along with 4 assists and 4 steals. Arizona’s Kailyn Gilbert and Helena Peuyo both had 10 points on 5-9 and 4-5 shooting.
Coming out of the break, the game felt like it could go anywhere as Arizona was playing tough defense while Gonzaga was still figuring out their offensive flow, but the Bulldog’s high flying offense quickly eliminated any such mystery as they embarked on a 13-4 run over the first six minutes. Brynna Maxwell, having only scored 2 points the first half, finally emerged from her shell as she failed to miss a shot the entire quarter en route to 14 points with 4 three-pointers. Maud Hujibens joined in the fun with 5 points while the Yvonne chipped in with 4. The only Wildcat player making any noise was Sali Kourouma as she tried to help her team with 7 points, but with their offense only hoisting 10 shots over the quarter, they had no chance to compete. When compared to the first half, Arizona’s half-court pressure and trapping defense seemed impotent as Gonzaga easily whisked the ball around the court to find open teammates and take a convincing lead of 67-46.
As we saw in the waning moments of the third quarter, Arizona opened the fourth quarter with an aggressive full court press and it did wonders to stall the Gonzaga offense as the team committed 7 turnovers and struggled mightily to get the ball past the half-court line on their way to an 81-69 victory.
In my preview article, I highlighted two areas of importance that Gonzaga would like need to handle in order to walk away with the win. Those were to hold Arizona’s shooting numbers below their season average and to win the rebounding margin. Gonzaga did both of those by holding the Wildcats to just 45.5% shooting (50.4% heading into the game), including just 21.4% from beyond the arc, and grabbing 32 rebounds compared to just 21 from Arizona. I thought Breya Cunningham would have a better game, but she only put up 2 points on 1-4 shooting with only 1 personal foul in her 20 minutes. Kailyn Gilbert looked led her team with 21 points and she looks like someone who could achieve All-American status one day and possibly play at the next level. Sali Kourouma did her best to help the Wildcats mount a comeback by scoring all of her 17 points in the second half, but the team still couldn’t sniff what Gonzaga had to offer.
I’ve felt this way for much of the year, but the fourth quarter exemplified my biggest concern for this Gonzaga team: athleticism from the guard position. This team frankly does not have enough of it and that forces the team to make the perfect decision more often than not, which can be challenging with an athletic opposition forcing you into tough spots on the floor. While the game was seemingly out of reach for the Wildcats, the lack of adjustment made by Coach Fortier and the players was really concerning with regards to the future. But hey, Gonzaga scheduled an incredibly difficult and diverse non-conference slate with their opposition trotting out multiple styles of offense and defense that can only help them achieve success in the WCC and hopefully the Big Dance.
Onwards and upwards. Go Zags!